Learning and Thriving in Florida
Moving out-of-state is never easy, especially during a global pandemic, but moving to a new town, unsure of what services will be available to the blind could be down-right scary. After spending time with Michelle Hyliard, one quickly learns that not too much unsettles this determined and cheerful woman.
After relocating last summer from Michigan to Punta Gorda, Michelle experienced many differences between the Midwest and Southeast. For starters, the seasons are just a little different. “My favorite thing about living in Florida is the weather,” she says. “It’s something many take for granted. The summer is rainier than I expected but I love winter in Florida.”
Another difference Michelle discovered in her new town was the assistance provided to those with visual impairment. Blind from birth, Michelle shared that she was the only blind student at school. In elementary school, she learned to read Braille while her classmates were learning to read standard text. She was mainstreamed throughout her education often learning side-by-side with sighted students. Michelle learned some practical skills while attending a couple of summer classes at the Michigan School for the Blind. “I received some practical home economics skills in those classes,” she said, admitting she did not have the resources she has since discovered.
After moving to Florida, Michelle contacted the Division of Blind Services and learned about Lighthouse Vision Loss Education Center. “A lot of the skills I have are because I learned them on my own.” She added, “I never learned the mobility techniques I’m now learning, and I was kind of illiterate when it came to technology.” Michelle also shared that much of what she was taught before or techniques she developed have been improved upon or, in some cases, corrected to benefit her needs.
“They’re all great,” Michelle comments on her Lighthouse instructors. “Two that I really enjoy the most are Maddy (Maddy Spencer, Rehabilitation Manager, Independent Living Program) and Randy (Randy Reed, Assistive Technology Specialist).” Both instructors have been working over the past months either virtually or in-person to assist and better train Michelle in Orientation and Mobility as well as developing a skillset centered around Assistive Technology. “I’ve learned to get around pretty good in my immediate neighborhood,” she says. “And Randy has been really patient with me. I feel like I gel with him the most because he’s also blind and teaches in a way I can relate to.”
Michelle went on to compliment her Lighthouse instructors’ patience. Taking the time to work with her so that she feels more confident and especially knowing she can work at her own pace and reviewing things means the world to her. She acknowledges she is getting better each day, learning to independently cross streets, getting exercise and navigating around the neighborhood. “Lighthouse is a wonderful place,” Michelle exclaims. She suggests that anyone who may be blind or beginning to loss their sight should reach out and make use of the resources. “It may be scary at times,” she states, “but you have to remember there are still plenty of things that we as blind people can do.” Adding, “with training, we can do almost everything those with sight can.”